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One might be inclined to think snacking is, truly, the antithesis of good health. But how we eat - as well as what we eat - is something that can vary depending on you and your circumstances. As with all things, finding balance and listening to your needs will provide you with the right answer.
But what could be a virtuous path, and what could prove antagonistic if you have goals you're trying to hit? We spoke to acclaimed nutritionist Mike Molloy, from M2 Performance Nutrition, about how to use snacking to your advantage, and what to avoid in finding a health conscious snack balance.
Snacking can be a huge factor in the success - or fall - of your progress, depending on how you approach and use snacks throughout the day. Snacks can help to maintain blood glucose levels (important for diabetics), if someone has a hard time eating enough throughout the day generally, or struggling to reach enough protein too. They also can cause someone to lose track and skip meals and opt for snacks which makes it easier to lose nutrient density in meals.
Common snacks are often “hyper-palatable” and dense in calories (particularly fats and carbs) which can lead to overeating and hinder progress; they are created to make you crave it more and provide a quick hit of energy and spike in blood glucose levels. Opt for options like carrots with hummus, or greek yoghurt with berries, instead of what the vending machine is offering.
A 'red light' test that your snack food could be problematic is if you feel more lethargic than energised afterward, or if you want to keep eating more of that food. A question we say at M2 to help assess hunger levels is: “would you want to eat an apple right now?” This seemingly silly question can help to point out if you are actually hungry, if you are “bored,” or if you are just experiencing cravings from that snack food.
A snack should be well-balanced like your meals, just typically on a smaller scale. Try to have protein, carbohydrates, and some fat when creating a snack: try jerky, or those grab-and-go options with fruit, veggies, cheese, or crackers.
A great snack can be made up of an appropriate amount of protein, carbs, and/or fat that will provide you will sustainable energy and hold you over until your next meal. Many popular snack foods have a disproportioned amount of one or two of these macro groups. Chips are usually really high in fat and carbs, but very low in protein. This is also seen in other popular options like many granola or 'health' bars. If the food is marketed as 'high protein', but only contains five grams or less of protein… red flag.
Taking an extra minute to look at the nutrition facts can make a huge difference. For example, yoghurt with berries could be great if made with greek yoghurt (high in protein) but it could detrimental; many of the pre-made parfait options at grocery stores contain low levels of protein, high amounts of carbs and added sugars.
Having an absolutist rule in anything might end up doing more harm than good. Typically, when you put a label on something or restrict yourself from it, you will crave that item even more. In the case of certain snacks, it could lead to a restrict-binge cycle (which is not good for our mental or physical health.)
That does not mean that you can’t have some form of self-discipline during certain times of the year; for example, around the holidays maybe you focus on hitting your water goal every day, or choosing dessert or an appetiser but not both.
At the end of the day, understand what your goals are and what it may take to reach them. Put appropriate guidelines in place that help you succeed, while also enjoying time with friends and family. But if you do want a hard and fast rule? A good tip year-round could be to avoid having a snack from a wrapper if you can.
Batch cooking or meal prepping snacks can be beneficial to help you save money and time while also staying on track. The cheesy phrase 'failing to prep is prepping to fail' is definitely applicable. Life can change and things come up that you don’t anticipate. By having some solid snack options ready to go you can make it easier to navigate circumstances that life might throw at you. Plus, it is less likely that you make a less ideal decision in the heat of the moment, like those crispy chips from the vending machine. Start by cutting up some fruits and veggies to pair with a dip or making a bulk recipe of protein oat bars.